Rearview Mirror

By Gwen Kirby on March 04, 2014
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“What do you want to be when you grow up?” When you were 5 you had an easy answer! Now that you’re a high school student, that question is harder—and scarier—to answer.
Picking just one career or major can seem impossible, but it’s not. Self-assessment—really thinking about what you want and what you are good at—is the key to planning and enjoying your future.

Meet yourself for the first time

Self-assessment means really thinking about yourself, almost as if you are meeting yourself for the first time. Start by asking yourself, “What subjects do you enjoy?” Then turn more critical, with something like, “Why do you enjoy it?” and be honest with yourself, even if it takes some searching.

For instance, you may know on the surface that you really loved going to chemistry last year. When you self-assess, though, you discover why you loved going there—what it was about that class that made it stand out in your day.

Some answers about future steps can reveal themselves through your answers. Let’s try it.

In this great chemistry class, was it the experiments you enjoyed so much?

• (If the answer is yes, maybe you should take AP chemistry next term. Or try another science class, where more experiments will be required.)

Or did you enjoy working in lab groups because you like being a leader or team player?

• (Yes? Then maybe next year you should join the student government. Its whole reason for existing is to let leaders work through school issues.)

Though this “chemistry class” example is a very simple one, it shows the value of those deep-er reasons for enjoying certain classes. Once you reach these answers, they can sometimes tell you more about your actual preferences and strengths than the subject matter—and show you that you shouldn’t just judge a class by the subject matter being taught.

Surprise yourself

One of the challenges of self-assessment is to ask questions that let you surprise yourself. For guidance on what questions to ask, you can check out a number of free online resources, such as or
Unlike generic personality tests, these websites are specifically aimed at matching your interests to possible careers and/or majors. You can also look to your school’s guidance counselor, who, in addition to having good questions of his or her own, should be able to point you to additional resources.
When you plan for the future, create different types of plans for different scales of time.One of the most important things to remember, ultimately, is that you can always change your plans. 


Know Thyself
Effective self-assessments don’t need to be administered by outside professionals. Try to get honest, definite answers out of yourself in these areas, and make plans accordingly!


  1. Values: What’s important to me? Some value family above a career, money above enjoyment at work, or living in a particular place vs. job opportunities.
  2. Skills: What am I good at? You pick up a guitar and just have a knack for it; you study for math all night and it is still hard, but you get an A in English easily. Think about what comes easily to you—these are your skills.
  3. Personality: What am I like? There is no better resource for understanding your personality than talking to trusted friends and family. What do you act like around people who make you feel comfortable?
  4. Interests: What excites me? These pursuits are stimulating and can tell you what may enrich your life for years to come.

About the Author

Gwen Kirby

Gwen Kirby

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